R3 Speaks: Affective vs. Predatory Violence: All Violence is not the Same

Posted by George L. Vergolias on March 20, 2017

There is a clear and well-developed body of research showing that humans have two distinct psychobiological modes of violence and aggression response. One is Affective, or emotional; the other is Predatory, or targeted. Affective violence mobilizes the emotional “fight or flight” response system, towards thwarting off or evading a threat. Predatory violence mobilizes a more cognitive planning attack mode, designed to “hunt” down an intended target(s).

These operate on different anatomical structures and neuronal pathways in the brain, and mobilize different parts of our body to respond to different situations. They are also mutually exclusive and incompatible for simultaneous function – we cannot be in both modes at the same time.

As we witness increased mass attacks, global and domestic terror, and other acts of violence, there is much discussion about violence in the mental health treatment community, the media, and in our culture as a whole. But we repeatedly fail to make the distinction in understanding, and talking about, these different types of violence, their differing dynamics, and how those impact our ability to detect, mitigate, and develop interventions at the public policy and individual levels to reduce violence incidence.

Yet, without such clarity we are destined to fall short in our understanding of violence as it occurs in various contexts, and thus also destined to fail in identifying the correct solutions. It’s time we had that discussion to clarify those concepts.